A STAINTON free-range egg producer is urging all poultry keepers to be vigilant with the lifting today of compulsory housing measures introduced to combat the UK’s worst ever bird flu outbreak.

But on the day the government gave the green light to the mandatory housing order to be relaxed, some poultry keepers were calling for a bird flu vaccine to be made available to avoid future outbreaks.

Commenting on the relaxing of the bird flu restrictions, David Brass, CEO at The Lakes Free Range Company, said: “We have been looking forward to this day since November”.

But he added that all poultry keepers still needed to be vigilant and exercise good biosecurity. “It’s good news for free-range egg producers and their birds.

"Hens have been indoors since November so they will soon have the opportunity to venture outside and continue their natural habits of dust bathing, pecking and scratching.

“We are wholly behind the message that all poultry keepers still need to be vigilant and exercise good biosecurity principals to help prevent any disease being transmitted.

"It is especially important for those with small flocks and back yard keepers who may not be aware of or adhering to good biosecurity – it puts nearby free range egg producing farms at risk.”

The strict measure was introduced in November as one of a range of measures to stop the spread of avian influenza.

The scale of outbreaks across the UK and Europe have been unprecedented, with over 330 cases confirmed across the country since late October 2021. Cumbria has seen three cases of the devastating disease this year.

There is little evidence that avian flu can be spread from person to person, but members of the public have been urged to inform the authorities if they suspect a case of bird flu.

Dr Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s chief veterinary officer, said ‘scrupulous biosecurity’ remained the most critical form of defence to help keep birds safe.

The Scottish Farmer: David Brass with his flock last summer David Brass with his flock last summer

She said: “It is thanks to the hard work of all bird keepers and vets who have played their part in keeping flocks safe this winter that we are in a position to take this action.

“However, the unprecedented nature of this outbreak has proven it’s more important than ever for bird keepers to remain vigilant for signs of disease and maintain stringent standards of biosecurity.”

Responding to the announcement, the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) said farmers had seen the worst season for avian influenza ever.

CEO Robert Gooch it is vital that all poultry keepers – regardless of poultry numbers – continue to treat the situation as high risk.

READ MORE: Poultry allowed outside again after risk of bird flu lowers

“While on the range, hens like to scratch, dust bathe and forage for additional food, displaying the natural behaviours that consumers associated with free range and organic egg production.

“However, it is vital that all poultry keepers – regardless of bird numbers – continue to treat the situation as high risk, taking all necessary precautions to limit the continued transmission of the virus now that hens are ranging again.

“This message is particularly important to small flock and backyard keepers who may not be aware that practising good biosecurity principles can help protect nearby farms.

“BFREPA will continue to work with the government and other industry stakeholders to explore options which may reduce the threat of avian influenza to commercial poultry.”

Eggs laid by hens with access to outside range areas can return to being marketed as free range eggs.